Pubdate: Tue, 13 Jul 1999
Source: Japan Times (Tokyo)
Copyright: © 1999 Japan Times
Author: Mayumi Saito
Culture of Cannabis
A Tokyo restaurant is serving up dishes with hemp. It's not illegal,
it won't get you high, but if you go you might learn something about
the 25,000 other uses for the weed.
Restaurantís ingredients in the pot
Hemp advocates slowly sprouting
By MAYUMI SAITO
Special to The Japan Times
There is an herb that can provide the base material for food, shelter
and clothing, replace land-polluting crops and offer relief for the
terminally ill. The magical herb is hemp, otherwise known as
marijuana in the world of illicit drugs.
Whether its magic is black or white remains the subject of much
debate. But products made from hemp are now hot in Japan. And the
ambitions of marijuana advocates for its legalization are growing as
Having heard there is a restaurant in Tokyo that serves cannabis
dishes, most people would likely ask: "Isn't marijuana supposed to be
illegal in Japan?"
Huddled in a corner of Shimokitazawa, one of Tokyo's hippest
districts, Cafe-Restaurant Asa (Hemp) proclaims to be a pioneer of the
unique cuisine in this country.
Visitors are welcomed by scenes of a hemp field projected on a large
screen on the wall and tables covered with hemp seeds and even
hemp-made luncheon mats. In one corner, a collection of books and
magazines about hemp in Japanese and English is displayed to enlighten
But diners need not worry about a police crackdown. Owner Koichi
Maeda explained that his food contains only hemp seeds, which have
very little THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the main psychoactive element
The Marijuana Control Law targets the plant's buds and leaves as a
potential drug, while its stem and seeds are openly distributed in the
Hemp seeds in daily Japanese life are found in "shichimi" hot pepper
or in birdseed. But Maeda was inspired by the seeds' versatility at
the Hemp Expo in Germany in 1997 and opened this restaurant in August
after developing his own recipes.
Try his Chirom Rolls with fried hemp seeds or the Space Drink, a shake
made with shucked seeds that tastes like banana. Hemp seeds contain
high levels of protein similar to those found in soybeans and vital
amino acids, according to Maeda.
"All of the food was delicious," American English teacher Matt Cornell
said. "My only disappointment was that I didn't feel high afterward."
The number of products that can be made from hemp is estimated to be
over 25,000. Seeds can be used to make nutritious foods, while the
stem and oil can be used to make fabric, paper, fuel and medicine.
"Hemp can be used for food, shelter and clothing," Maeda said.
Maeda is a law-abiding restaurant manager but also a vocal opponent of
the Marijuana Control Law. "Even as a drug, there are no reports of
physical addiction to marijuana, as opposed to tobacco and alcohol,"
When NHK aired a documentary titled "Marijuana Use Increasing among
Youth" in 1997, environmental attorney Hidehiro Marui said he found it
exaggerated the dangers of marijuana, and the broadcaster distorted
comments he made during an interview for the program.
Marui, who had worked on more than 150 criminal cases related to
marijuana, filed a damages lawsuit seeking a correction to be
broadcast by NHK and Y10 million in damages.
The Tokyo District Court, the Tokyo High Court and the Supreme Court
all turned down Marui's claim. The final ruling came out last year.
"Marijuana is just an herb," Marui said. "There are no cases of
violent acts associated with marijuana. This is a fact shown in many
previous studies and my own observations over 20 years in the legal
profession." He added that its illegality, rather than any harmful
side effects, tarnishes the herb's reputation.
Advocates are more interested in the herb's potential for industrial
and medical use in the next century.
Strong, fast growing, herbicide-free hemp could be farmed for paper
production and replace the land-polluting cotton industry, experts
As opposed to cotton, which requires a great amount of chemical
fertilizer and herbicides to grow, hemp is strong and can adapt to
almost any environment.
Industrial hemp was legalized in Austria in 1996, and now 100 tons of
hemp is produced annually with a government subsidy of $800 per
In Germany, nearly 600 farmers are applying for similar subsidies to
grow hemp, while no such applications are required in Switzerland.
An increasing number of Western countries are also becoming more
lenient toward the recreational or medical use of marijuana.
Germany is following the same path as the Netherlands, where marijuana
products are available in shops and restaurants.
In the United States, medical marijuana was legalized in Arizona and
California in 1996, following referendums backed by mounting evidence
of its effectiveness in treating people with AIDS, cancer, glaucoma,
multiple sclerosis and arthritis.
Sixteen states have now moved toward decriminalizing marijuana for
medical purposes. The federal government has also decided to push a
study of the herb's medical effects and allow a limited supply to
"bona fide" researchers starting in December.
This international trend is slowly infiltrating Japan. In December,
the Body Shop -- a British cosmetics company -- began locally promoting
a series of hemp-oil products for their moisturizing and emollient
The campaign caught the interest of young Japanese consumers without
causing controversy, according to Body Shop spokeswoman Yuko Naruse.
However, Body Shop stores in Italy and Hong Kong met police objection
to their promotional poster, which depicted a marijuana leaf.
Patagonia, a U.S. outdoor gear company, is offering hemp clothing this
summer, encouraged by their success last year in Japan. The hemp
items are more costly than Patagonia's cotton products, but assistant
marketing chief Shoichiro Maeda emphasized that hemp's ecological
benefits fit in with the company's corporate image.
Hemp has a role in Japanese history. In the feudal era, it was used
mostly as a textile for kimono for the working class, and for tatami,
sandal straps and ropes. A small percentage was used as medicine.
Under the Allied Occupation, the Marijuana Control Law was passed in
1948, presumably to keep Occupation soldiers from smoking pot.
Although some wild hemp is found in Hokkaido as a legacy of the
plantations established during prewar development, licensed farmers
and researchers grow 90 percent of Japan's hemp in Tochigi Prefecture
for limited use.
Anybody wanting a license to grow hemp must have "a good, traditional
reason for growing hemp in the field and an ability to conscientiously
manage it," according to Hiroshi Yamamoto of the Health and Welfare
No research on marijuana's medical applications has been conducted in
Japan. But if it were to be approved for medicinal purposes, Yamamoto
said, marijuana would be cautiously handed to a small number of
licensed doctors, much like the prescription of morphine.
July 13, 1999